Sunday, February 20, 2011

Google Docs Are a Step Into the Cloud

Unisys partnering with Google and Section 8(a) contractors (Tempus Nova and Acumen Solutions) will deliver Google cloud-computing services to the General Services Administration (GSA). Their 15,000 employees will switch from desktops and laptops hosted on local servers to network-hosted applications operated from Google data centers. GSA is among the first federal agencies to move into cloud computing. * Competitors for the contract were also Microsoft and IBM who lost for unspecified reasons.

The Unisys fixed price contract is $6.7 million or $90/employee seat/year. GSA will still have to provide client computers, plus high bandwidth LAN connectivity to the Internet. The high responsiveness of Google will make possible the replacement of high cost “fat” clients with low cost “thin” clients for substantial additional savings.

We do not have a benchmark for comparing the GSA cloud deployment with current client/server operations. However, we do have data on the cost per seat for the NMCI project. ** Although NMCI does include on site management of equipment, from the standpoint of functionality the services are comparable in terms of the most frequently used features. The NMCI costs are either $1,818/employee seat/year or $2,230/employee seat/year if the full five year costs to the Navy are included. The disparity between NMCI and GSA cloud costs are just too large not to be left without further examination. 

Anyway one accounts the costs, GSA’s IT budget will realize a huge reduction in operating expenses and in the elimination of most of its IT support personnel. GSA will also avoid substantial future capital investments for servers. In return GSA will receive e-mail, word processing, spreadsheets, presentation slides preparation means, collaboration applications as well as a wide range of diverse services that Google makes available at no cost. The applications migrated into the Google cloud represent the majority of GSA’s computing needs.

The source selection documents for choosing Google are not available and therefore we cannot say whether it was the price, the migration cost or security requirements that were the basis for the vendor selection.  We only know that the major objection to the engagement of Google came from Microsoft who were offering their online Business Productivity Only Suite consisting of the Microsoft Exchange Online for email and calendaring; Microsoft SharePoint Online for portals and document sharing; Microsoft Office Communications Online for presence availability and Office Live Meeting for web and video conferencing. Microsoft’s argued that the existing interoperability between Microsoft applications and the diverse GSA applications were not easily interoperable, if at all.

The differences between Google and Microsoft applications will be hard to ever reconcile. Google offers solutions that are based on open source programs, using published Apps APIs (Application Program Interfaces). What GSA is buying is a Software-as-a-Service solution where all application development and maintenance costs are already included in Google bills.

An examination of the interoperability between Google documents, spreadsheets and presentation software and Microsoft Office applications were found to be compatible. There appears to be no valid reason whey Google Apps cannot coexist with any other Microsoft linked applications that remain hosted on GSA servers.

Microsoft’s applications are tightly wedged into their Operating system environment. From a security standpoint, Microsoft application software, operating system and browser are also under continual attack. Hundreds of bugs are discovered every year. Until the fixes are installed, there is always a time during which Microsoft programs remains vulnerable. No such vulnerabilities have been as yet attributed to Google.

SUMMARY
The large savings available from the migration to Google Apps for the most frequently used GSA workloads offer a relatively easy and fast path into cloud computing. Other applications, such as database intensive uses, can be scheduled for transfer later or remain hosted on clouds that specialize in applications such as Oracle database services. There is no reason to suppose that GSA cannot operate in the future in a hybrid cloud environment where a part of applications are run by Google, some are run on other clouds and some remain hosted within GSA.

An important consideration in the choice of Google is the opportunity for GSA to disentangle itself from largely total dependence on Microsoft. GSA would now have an opportunity to choose from diverse computing clouds where interoperability can be competed primarily for the least cost as well as the highest levels of security.


*http://www.gsa.gov/portal/content/208417
** http://pstrassmann.blogspot.com/2010/12/nmci-economics-for-next-five-years.html 

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